Alberta, and other provinces, to take carbon tax fight to Freeland Friday

Alberta’s Nate Horner says provinces want to tackle affordability, the carbon tax and productivity

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Alberta’s Finance Minister Nate Horner is meeting with other provincial finance ministers and federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland today in Toronto.

It’s the first time the ministers have met since the “emergency” meeting called over Alberta’s potential withdrawal from the Canada Pension Plan. They plan to discuss economic productivity, tax policy, housing, affordability and, yes, probably pensions.

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And, because provincial premiers are still upset about differing treatment between provinces over the carbon tax, that’ likely to come up, too.

National Post’s Tyler Dawson spoke to Horner Thursday, in advance of the meeting.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. This interview first appeared in the What’s up with Alberta? newsletter. You can sign up here.

What do you expect to talk about on Friday?

So, we’re hoping to go over a number of things, from housing and affordability, tax policy. There will be some time allotted for pension discussion.

But something that provinces really want to see is some time to talk just about economic growth and productivity around tax policy, regulation. (There’s) a lot of concern with the provinces about where we’re headed as a country and we’re hoping that is a big part of the discussion.

What are some of the specifics on tax policy and regulation and growth that Alberta wants to see discussed?

I’d say specifically allowing ourselves to continue to attract investment — investment that isn’t subsidized. There’s been a lot of discussion around the subsidized battery plants in Ontario. We need to get to a place where we can use our natural advantages and attract investment to help with productivity across the country.

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Specifically for Alberta, we’re very concerned about the emissions cap that we feel is really a production cap on the oil and gas sector. (Oil and gas are) Canada’s largest export, it’s where Canada receives a lot of their corporate income tax revenue. We think (the cap is) sending the wrong signal.

So, we think it’s a combination of things, but probably the biggest thing would just be the signals we are sending and communicating where we’re headed.

Housing is on the agenda. What do you expect to talk about on that front?

Certainly, Alberta’s well positioned, relatively, to the other large provinces, I would say, but we are we are seeing the challenges around affordable housing, affordability, like everyone else. Yeah, we want to understand, you know, what the federal government proposes.

We don’t control the immigration policy, obviously, for the country like the feds do, but if we’re going to increase by 1.2 million people in a country of 40 million people and we’re already in a housing crunch, we want some broad understanding of what the expectations are.

We’d like to have a carbon tax discussion. It currently isn’t in the agenda, but I’m sure many of the provinces are going to make sure it’s discussed. I know Alberta will.

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With the dropping of the carbon tax on home heating fuel in Atlantic Canada, do you think the carbon tax discussion will get anywhere?

We’re going to force the discussions. It’s patently unfair, and it’s honestly hard to talk about all of these things without addressing it.

So, I think this conversation is coming to a head in mine and many of the provincial ministers’ opinion.

Do you expect health-care funding to come up?

I think it will come up, but more broadly around all of the transfers. It’s still a major concern for the provinces.

There’s many other issues — we still want the changes around fiscal stabilization, around equalization, and the transfer packages.

You mentioned the Canada Pension Plan. Do you expect to hear from the federal government what money Alberta would get if it withdraws?

No, I don’t expect that. What I expect is to get more of a clear understanding of what they’re going to ask the chief actuary to do and how to do it. (ed: The federal government has said it will ask the Office of the Chief Actuary to estimate what proportion of the Canada Pension Plan Alberta would get.)

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That’s what Alberta wants to understand in that regard.

Our main concern is just ensuring that the chief actuary gets independent legal advice on how to interpret the CPP Act. And then, yeah, we look forward to their opinion on the potential asset withdrawal. That’s our only concern, is what the feds are going to ask them to actually do.

What’s the relationship like with the other provincial finance ministers over the pension plan?

I think they’re concerned about affordability for their people. So, they don’t want to see anything make that situation worse for the constituents of those provinces. But I think there’s full agreement that this is any province’s right to consider. And I think there’s even broad understanding that we need to come to an understanding of how to arrive at this number.

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